Day: February 16, 2012

LL-MAP: Making scholarly maps for a digital medium

In the course of working on LL-MAP, I have learned that there are several differences between a traditional paper map as shown in a scholarly resource and a digital map that’s meant to be viewed on the LL-MAP interface; these differences affect the process of how we digitize and adapt traditional maps to be displayed in LL-MAP.

Traditional resources have been created for isolated viewing; whether on paper or using computer software they are generally intended to be viewed in one context. This means that elevation or contour lines and special map and legend symbols will show the map user a clear picture but only within the context of this specific map. In LL-MAP, we are trying to bring this information to a large web-based application where it is compatible with other maps. This often requires that we adapt the map in such a way that it (1) is viewed easily and (2) is as informative as possible.

To do this, we utilize several features of our dynamic mapping application that are not present in normal static map applications. First, we have written an HTML-based description and crediting template that allows for a large amount of descriptive information to be attributed to the map, as well as providing source and citation information. As shown in the map of the Linguistic Composition of Iran, this template allows for other relevant information such as first-language speaker data by percentage.

The structure of maps as layers in LL-MAP is another advantage offered by digital formats. Now, if you wanted to view just one or two languages and compare them, you can simply uncheck the other layers in the legend on the right. In this way, LL-MAP allows you to view smaller pieces of the map to get specific pieces of information. This is an advantage over traditional maps, as it allows you to first understand the localized context of a language you are investigating before roving more widely to related languages or language families. Returning to the Linguistic Composition of Iran, one way to view an example of this resource would be to uncheck ‘Arabic’ from the list of map components in the legend. Now, when we check this again we can see where Semitic languages have intermixed with other language groups. The ability to turn on and off layers dynamically cannot be understated, as this component is crucial to easily understanding large amounts of map data. It is also crucial for focusing in on one type of data.

One other feature of digital mapmaking that augments traditional map resources is the ability to dynamically click on an area of a map to see more information about that feature. For the map of Hua’er Festivals and Deity Renewals in Qinghai and Gansu, we can right click on these data points to see information such the data the festival took place, the number of attendees, and other relevant information. If you zoom in to the point marked ‘Lianhuashan’ in the center of the map and right click, you can even find audio files of direct recordings from this event!

This feature showcases another strength of LL-MAP’s dynamic interface–the capability for including media in maps in image, audio, or video formats. Finally, viewing maps with LL-MAP differs fundamentally from viewing static maps, as we can encode several ‘levels’ of information that are meant to be viewed at different zoom levels. Viewing a map of Ethnolinguistic Groups in the Caucasus Region, for example, we see that at the default zoom level there are no labels shown for the shapes that contain the boundaries of ethnic groups. When we zoom in one level further, however, we find that these labels appear. If you zoom in even further you can see regional placenames marked and finally at a very close zoom you’ll see the placename labels themselves appear. This feature is great for managing crowded labels or controlling the information you’d like to view at each zoom level.

I hope that you have enjoyed learning about some of the main features that make LL-MAP a dynamic place to make maps about language, culture or other related geographical features. So, take some time out of your day (or holiday) to explore the wide range of dynamic data on LL-MAP!